Embrace the Stupid First Draft

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. [Arthur Schopenhauer]

People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it. [Puck Magazine, 1903]

The first version of anything is almost always terrible. Half-thought through. Rough in the middle, the beginning, and the end. Ill-formed. Not good enough. Starting anything involves taking yourself through the initial stages of not-good-enough and terrible, and this can be enough to diminish the willingness to begin.

In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamont offers a tool for dealing with the problem of starting, which I relabel slightly as the stupid first draft. It’s the act of giving yourself permission to begin, to create something new, to take the first step fully knowing that there will be many to come after it. Just begin. Write the first draft. Jot down the initial ideas. Call a friend to chat through your latest crazy idea. Hastily scribble a mind map. Propose your idea in your team meeting.

Give form to the idea. Write the first draft, however stupid it will end up being. Embrace the risk. Turn off the critic. Silence the inner editor and evaluator.

For without the stupid first draft, you can’t have the better second, the pretty good third, and perhaps the almost perfect fourth. Or the “it-finally-worked” 1,000th.

It’s said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. By implication, the journey entirely depends on taking that first step, for without it, there is no second.

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